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Public health, the new genetics and subjectivity

Petersen, A. (2005) Public health, the new genetics and subjectivity. In: Barns, I., Dudley, J., Harris, P. and Petersen, A., (eds.) Post-structuralism, Citizenship and Social Policy. Routledge as part of the Taylor and Francis group, pp. 107-144.

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This chapter examines how the new genetics is shaping our ways of thinking about and responding to problems in public health and explores some implications of this development for how we conceptualise policy. Genetic knowledge is rapidly finding applications in public health, isolating new objects of analysis and delineating new areas of intervention. Genomics is being rapidly assimilated into technologies of screening and prenatal diagnosis and in practices of counselling and is likely to find future applications in genetic therapies. While there has been much discussion in the scientific literature and in the media about both the potential health benefits and the ethical dilemmas and dangers of this development, there has been little analysis of its underlying rationalities and of how these shape subjectivity and action. Genetics is radically altering the way we view our bodies, conduct ourselves and interact with others. In this chapter, I examine how genetic knowledge is helping to redefine the natural and the normal, and hence our concepts of the body and disease, our perceptions of appropriate treatment and prevention, and views of responsible citizenship. I also explore the possibilities created by this development for contesting the imperatives of health and the meanings of citizenship. In raising and exploring these questions, I have been strongly influenced by the governmentality literature. Governmentality scholars have focused on the processes of rule in contemporary societies, examining in particular how we govern ourselves as particular kinds of subjects. These questions have been largely neglected in both the ‘mainstream’ and critical public health literature, but are ones which, I believe, need to become more central in analyses of public health policy.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
Publisher: Routledge as part of the Taylor and Francis group
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